Thursday, June 04, 2009

You've been Dietered: losing your airplane comfort and finding the power of giving

"Would the owner of the black briefcase left beneath seat 34B please return and claim your carry-on," the pleasant disembodied voice of a Dutch KLM flight attendant echoed across the three rows of the 747.

Passengers continued to settle into their seats, checking seatbelts, leafing through the Dutch painters edition of the KLM magazine.

Minutes later: "We have found a business card in the outside pocket of the black briefcase left at seat 34B. Would Dieter ______ please ring the bell where you are now seated and claim your carry-on." The attendant's tones were no longer dulcet.

Passengers looked uncomfortably about the plane, fingering their seat belts. Would we have to leave the plane to deal with a potential terrorist threat of an abandoned brief case? Where was Dieter?

"Dieter ______, return to 34B immediately to claim your carry-on, or we will be forced to disembark."

A few minutes later, Dieter had indeed been found, looking for a better seat than 34B, and for his trouble, was publicly berated by the frustrated flight attendant. Dieter's new seat was next to our friend and documentary cinematographer Brian, who had hoped for that empty seat to stretch a bit on the flight from Amsterdam to Ethiopia.

No such luck. He'd been Dietered.

Dieter was a talker, and very interested in Brian's purpose for flying to Addis Ababa. When Dieter heard that the documentary was to raise awareness to the life of kids living on the streets of the slums and the hope L.I.A. offers them, he grew animated and shared recent opportunities he'd had to serve the less fortunate. His daughter had taken him to a retirement home, where they played bingo with the elderly and lonely. He was excited to share that with each opportunity to give, he'd found more energy and felt better in general, and encouraged Brian in all the work he was to do in Ethiopia.

Dieter's realization that to give to and serve others and a greater purpose is good not only for the community, but for one's personal health has been the subject of medical and social studies. In "The Healing Power of Compassion," Dr. Patricia's Fitzgerald's interview with actress Tasia Valenza, she explores the health benefits of altruistic behavior.

"'It is better to give than to receive' is a phrase that has become so commonplace, it's easy to take the meaning lightly. Many of us have felt that wonderful feeling that accompanies making someone's day a little brighter. Have we really thought about how powerful giving can be -- not just to the recipients but to the giver as well?

Whether it is part of a profession, volunteer work, or being a caregiver to a family member, being of service can have a significant effect on one's emotional and spiritual health. People just seem so much happier when they are part of something greater than themselves.

The healing effects of compassion and altruism have been subjects of ongoing research. Numerous studies suggest that helping others may influence a person's physical as well as mental health."
(Dr. Patricia Fitzgerald, The Huffington Post)

In "No Future Without Forgiveness" and in an interview with Beliefnet, Desmond Tutu references the concept of interdependence in one word, "ubuntu," which takes a whole paragraph of English to explain:

"Ubuntu is a concept that we have in our Bantu languages at home. Ubuntu is the essence of being a person. It means that we are people through other people. We cannot be fully human alone. We are made for interdependence, we are made for family. When you have ubuntu, you embrace others. You are generous, compassionate. If the world had more ubuntu, we would not have war. We would not have this huge gap between the rich and the poor. You are rich so that you can make up what is lacking for others. You are powerful so that you can help the weak, just as a mother or father helps their children. This is God's dream."

Perhaps Dieter's enthusiasm for giving of his time can override his reputation of flight-interrupter, and we can all look forward to being "Dietered" in the future.

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